Raphaël Lemkin and the Concept of Genocide by Douglas Irvin-Erickson
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For a couple of decades after his death at age 59 in 1959, Raphaël Lemkin largely faded from memory. This condescension of history was especially unbecoming, for Lemkin coined the term genocide and, against significant resistance, was largely responsible for introducing and then securing passage of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the United Nations. Just as humanitarian and genocide studies have flourished in recent decades, so too have Lemkin studies—a field to which Douglas Irvin-Erickson adds with his superb intellectual biography, Raphaël Lemkin and the Concept of Genocide. This impeccably researched work tells us little about the man’s personal life; rather, it provides a deep understanding of the ideas that shaped Lemkin, the concepts he articulated, and the machinations he orchestrated to ensure passage of the Convention.
Lemkin, a Polish Jew, acutely felt what it meant to be a minority—and after the Versailles Treaty, millions were...